Barbara from Bay View called in to inquire about a word she encountered while reading a book. The word was louche, and it means dubious, shifty, or disreputable. Sometimes it expresses a secret admiration for the decadence of the underworld.
Its origin is rather delightful. It came into English from a French word that meant squinting. In turn, the French word came from the Latin lusca, one-eyed. It represents the facial squinch that some people exhibit when they encounter something that they disapprove of.
A few examples will illustrate its use.
Catherine Hiller, 17 Morton Street: “Contrary to the louche reputation she cultivated, especially with her sisters, Perri did not go after every man she wanted. She had her standards.”
Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Crime Without Murder: “A prosperous macquereau sipping Vichy water in a Paris nightclub represents an unmistakably louche appearance . . .”
Henry James, The Golden Bowl: “Mayn’t it have all the air for them of a really equivocal, sinister bargain between us—something quite unholy and louche?”
Punch, volume 298: “And the doorways are increasingly being filled by even more disreputable types—drunks, beggars, freeloading hacks. So much for the council’s cleanup campaign. There are certain louche habitués of Soho who swear that the sleaze is all part of the charm.”
Later in the show, Derrick from Elk Rapids called in to say that louche is a term used in mixing absinthe. A web site titled Absinthe Fever explains it this way: “The absinthe ritual of La Louche is a process of adding iced water to absinthe, which dilutes the drink and slowly transforms its colour from the original emerald green to a lighter, opalescent shade of milky green. More often than not, the water is poured over a lump of sugar placed on a perforated spoon that rests on the top of the glass.”
Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition
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